Saturday, April 30, 2011

Northline, by Willy Vlautin

Once again Willy Vlautin has ripped out my heart and left me bleeding, only to have me beg for more. Kind of like Eminem and Rihanna, without the egomaniacal violent misogynist part. One thing I love about Mr. Vlautin; no matter how devastated you feel at the end of his books, he leaves you with a sliver of grimy hope.

Allison Johnson is a great protagonist. She's more messed up than you, but maybe you've felt exactly the way she does, on your worst days. And maybe you've persevered as she does on your best days, though I think she's got me beat in that category. The story follows her through a harrowing year as she tries to escape her nightmare boyfriend, and manage her monumental anxiety. This girl has made a lot of bad choices, but it's hard to fault her, she is so clearly aching to do better. Her saving grace, aside from being likable, is her imaginary relationship with Paul Newman, who talks her through some of her lowest moments. Once again Willy Vlautin shows us what it's like to be a resident of the fringe of society, where expectations are low and behavior is generally bad.

The writing is the same plain gritty beautiful prose I fell in love with in Lean On Pete. Everyone in this book is damaged, and everyone is fully three-dimensional. Even the terrible boyfriend seems to have a few redeeming qualities, which I think is true of most people. If abusers were 100% awful, most would never get their hands on the fragile souls they feed on.

This book has a soundtrack! It's written and performed by WillyVlautin himself, along with Paul Brainard. A cd accompanies every book! How cool is that? Embedding a song in this post is beyond my technological powers, though I have tried valiantly. Read the book, listen to the music; they're both great.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon

Well, I have a new literary crush. That being said, I did this book a great injustice by reading it in little bits and pieces, over the course of almost two weeks. It deserves some undivided attention. It is comprised of three stories, which are ultimately intertwined, beautifully mirroring one another. As though they reflect one another on a slightly wavering surface, so that just as you glimpse the similarities, they are gone.

Each narrative is told from the point of view of a runaway. Ryan is fleeing his parents after learning that he is not who he thought he was. Lucy escapes her small town in the wake of her parents' death, in the front seat of her history teacher's Maserati. Miles has been uprooting his life for decades, in search of his elusive identical twin. The action switches between the present and the past; many pasts, as it turns out. The structure is complex, but it remains clear what is happening to whom, and how it fits into the overall timeline. Which is pretty impressive.

Is it possible to walk away from your life, and make it over entirely? This novel continually made me ask myself, "Are people really like this? Is this going on all over America?" It is a testament to the fine writing that I kept answering myself in the affirmative. What a feat! In less skillful hands it would have seem contrived and ridiculous. As it was, I was kept guessing until the end, unsure of how the trio of tales would resolve themselves, anxious to get learn the truth, but wanting to make the book last.

The author describes his novel as Hitchcockian. Hitchcocklike? Rest assured, he put it more gracefully. It has many characteristics of a thriller, and I had to read one section through slitted eyes, because it was so suspenseful and clinically creepy. I am not a fan of the mystery/crime genre (much to my own disappointment); this book rides the line between genre fiction and just generally really well-written fiction, which to me is a perfect combination. In short, I loved it, and can't wait to read his other work.

Here's a great interview with the author. He's pretty nerdy/dreamy, which is the best kind of dreamy, in my book.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Love, Aubrey, by Suzanne LaFleur

This is my just-turned-ten-year-old daughter's favorite book. About a month ago, she was reading it in her bed, tears streaming down her cheeks, saying, "This is the best book EVER! But it's so sad." Two weeks later, there I was in bed, reading this book and crying. I won't say it's the best book ever, but it's pretty good.

Eleven-year-old Aubrey has lost her father and sister in a car crash, and now her mother has disappeared, leaving her to fend for herself. Fortunately, her grandmother takes her in, and the book takes place over the course of the next year. As you can imagine, Aubrey's got a little processing to do. Heavy stuff for a kids' book, but I think it's just the right mix of serious and fun; it turns out that life doesn't end when your family is gone, though it seems like it should.

The author, Suzanne LaFleur, is exactly the kind of adult I wanted to be when I was a child. She's in her mid-twenties, and so hasn't been a bona fide grownup for all that long - I hope she can sustain her absolute coolness. You can read about her on her website. If you loved Harriet the Spy and heroines of her ilk, you will love Suzanne LaFleur.

I don't read that much kids' lit these days, but when my children particularly love something I will give it a try. I remember reading my favorites over and over again, in a way I just wouldn't as an adult. This is a great pick for the tweeners, and not a bad grownup read if you're ready to shed a few tears.